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Challengers is the long delayed new feature from Luca Guadagnino and it certainly feels like we have been waiting for this for a long time. The first trailer dropped in June 2023, swiftly followed by the August 2023 release date being pushed back to September and then to January 2024, before its final date locked in for the end of April. Finally it arrives in a haze of sweat, steam, backstabbing, biting humour and thrillingly tense tennis duels, that can feel a little too much in one go at points, leading to pacing problems smattered throughout.


Challengers sees Tashi (Zendaya), a former tennis prodigy turned coach, who is married to a champion (Mike Faist) on a losing streak. Her strategy for her husband's redemption takes a surprising turn when he must face off against his former best friend and Tashi's former boyfriend (Josh O’Connor).


I’ll quickly backhand the negative out the way first. Challengers pacing problems that arise are significantly due to the time jumping structure, which can get a little convoluted and confusing as it frequently hops between hours, years, weeks and days over the course of 131 minutes. However, the film swiftly immerses you into the triangle of love, sex and sports that is Tashi (Zendaya), Art (Faist) and Patrick (O’Connor). The intertwining of the rampant, corporate, adrenaline pumping tennis world alongside the electric chemistry between the lead trio and the genuine heart of the feature being the friendship between Art and Patrick adds up to a thoroughly engaging clash of romance, drama and sport.

Outside of his Suspiria reimagining (which I think decent, but not a patch on the original), I have yet to see Guadagnino’s other features (most notably Call Me by Your Name and Bones & All), however with the superb directorial prowess on display here they will certainly be prominently on the watchlist viewings. The tennis matches feel like battles and are littered with stylistic flair. Ultra-melodramatic slow motion, ball cams, first person POV shots, sharp reaction shots and slick transitions. It’s gloriously adrenaline pumping stuff. Which can also be said about the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. A pulsating, in-your-face, groovy, infectious combination of synths, electro and drum & bass.


The performances are great all round. Zendaya is an absolute force of nature. A ferociously driven, seductive, unpredictable and dangerously beautiful presence that absolutely has everyone as putty in her hands. Both Faist and O’Connor have a very genuine feeling established friendship. Seeing this play out over years allows us to see every best of their character’s journeys. The former’s growth into a more mature, yet subdued and needy pro and the latter’s slacker, optimistic recklessness are both conveyed effectively.

Challengers was worth the wait. It is a tense, funny, sweaty, steamy, biting Grand Slam with a pulsing, infectious score and a great trio of lead performances.


Rating Challengers



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